The authority of the referee over persons other than players and team officials is limited by the Laws of the Game. There is no restriction in the LOTG about where spectators can take up position. But in stadium soccer, spectators are not permitted on the field next to the team and players. Almost all youth competitions attempt to deal with this by restricting where spectators can be on the field. Some keep them all on one side. Some keep them on opposite sides with the teams. Almost all keep them in the middle 2/3 of the field (up from the 18) and away from the goal line. But whose responsibility is it to deal with spectators if they do not conform to the local guidelines?
There are two decisions that have to be made in dealing with spectators who have taken up a position in the wrong place, say beyond the 18 yard line or even behind the goal line. First, is it necessary for game control to move the spectator? And second is who should approach them to move?
Some things to consider in whether to make spectators move are the ages and interests of the spectator. If a couple of 8 or 9 year olds put a blanket on the ground even with the 12 yard line instead of the 18 yard line, is it necessary to move them? What if an elderly couple are seeking the only shade and it’s near the goal line? Is it necessary to show your power and game control by making them move? How far are you along in the game? If it’s in the first minute you may want to get spectators situated properly but if it’s in the last five minutes do you really need to act now for game control? What about a "silent" parent who wants to video tape the match or a portion from behind the goal? If he is not actively coaching the players do you want to prevent him from making a family keepsake video?
Please consider that moving spectators is not part of the referees’ duties under the LOTG. In making this determination a referee should apply Law 18 (Common Sense) and apply this the same way that one does with the other Laws. Is this a "trifling" offense? If this is an elderly couple just seeking shade relief why should one care if they are near the goal line instead of the 18? As USSF National Instructor Jim Allen said:"Referees should not go out of their way to aggravate people who have done nothing wrong. It will only harm their game management in the long run by revealing how petty they are."
Now, some well-meaning and interfering coaches will try to intimidate the referee, especially the young referee, into moving spectators from the other team. And that is another factor to consider. Many coaches do not understand that rules have gray areas and this is one of those. If a coach is demanding that someone be moved then the referee has to take action. It can be either to move the spectators or to address the coach but once the coach has elevated the situation into a confrontation then the referee must deal with it.
But how do you move a person who is in the wrong location? Every referee has their own personality and how you deal with it is a matter of preference. Our advice is to size up the situation and involve the "coach" of the spectators that need moved. This works well if you are near the coach and both you and the coach can see the spectators are in a position where they shouldn’t be. Here a simple request to the coach that HE deal with the spectators tends to work real well. If you need to request spectators to move, be nice. Ask, don’t demand. Start with "Coach, could I ask that you have your nice folks.....?"
But keep in mind, like the LOTG, when the determination of moving a spectator occurs it is gray and not black and white. It’s okay not to be overly assertive with fans who are not interfering in any way. But we will leave the strongest reminder of all: Any fans who are interfering with you or your ARs MUST be moved back to the prescribed spectating area.